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From matter to materials and life - in the molecular kitchen for tomorrow's innovations

In the program “From Matter to Materials and Life” (MML), previously known as “Forschung mit Photonen, Neutronen und Ionen“ (PNI), research scientists are using the scientific large-scale facilities and large research infrastructures to investigate the structure, dynamics and function of matter and materials, which are not otherwise accessible with conventional laboratory equipment. Included in this array of large-scale facilities are the photon-, neutron-, ion-, and high-field-devices with the abbreviations ANKA, BER II, BESSY II, ELBE, FLASH, GEMS, HLD, IBC, JCNS, PETRA III as well as international installations with Helmholtz participation such as the European SFEL and the planned devices FAIR and ESS. In terms of content, the research of the program touches on diverse topics from magnetism and super-conductivity to material examinations for energy-, transport-, and information-technologies to issues regarding nano-sciences, health and life-sciences and the examination of extreme conditions of matter. This program is thus confronting the great challenges of modern society. Through systematic use of the large-scale facilities, research in MML is complementing the work being done in other Helmholtz research fields, with which it is closely coordinated.

What is the goal?

The scientific large-scale facilities operated in the program make available probe particles such as photons, neutrons, ions as well as highly electromagnetic fields with frequently unprecedented brilliance, particle fluxes or beam intensity for an international user community. The probe particles serve as projectiles for scattering experiments involving manifold subjects of investigation. The goal here is to optimally adapt the scientific large-scale facilities for the researchers from science and industry, and to derive the largest benefit from them.

What is Helmholtz doing to achieve this goal?

A special characteristic of the MML programm is the considerable emphasis on scientific large-scale facilities, which take up roughly 80% of the resources. The majority of these research infrastructures are, for the most part, accessed by external users (universities, third-party institutions, international partners, industry, etc.). The photon-, neutron-, ion-, and high-field-devices belonging to the Helmholtz Association have been allocated to the following four so-called Facility Topics:

•    Research on matter with brilliant light sources with the facilities ANKA, BESSY II, FLASH , GEMS-P, PETRA III and the contribution to the European XFEL,
•    Neutrons for research on condensed matter with the facilities BER II, GEMS-N and JCNS and the contribution to the European Spallation Source ESS,
•    Physics and materials science with ion beams with the facilities IBC and SIS/ESR/HITRAP at the GSI, as well as the accelerator facilities for FAIR
•    Research at highest electromagnetic fields with the facilities ELBE and HLD.

For construction and operation of scientific large-scale facilities and research infrastructures, including the experiments for scientific use and user support, it is necessary that the Helmholtz researchers are intensively committed to the research. Therefore, about 20 percent of the program resources are allocated to the large-scale facilities for “in-house research”, frequently in close collaboration with other Helmholtz Association research fields. The research scientists from the participating Helmholtz Centers work together closely in this regard with universities, research institutes and industry. In all cases, the in-house research is intensively linked with the use of the MML research infrastructures. For this purpose, an organizational structure for in-house research within the MML Program and parallel to the so-called Facility Topics was installed: “In-house research on structure, dynamics and function of matter at large-scale facilities”, with five research themes:

In the research theme Extreme states of matter: From cold ions to hot plasmas, fundamental issues are examined concerning the behavior of matter in strong or extreme fields. The dynamics of structural changes in (bio-) molecules, which take place within the femtosecond range, are also observed.

In the research theme Quantum condensed matter: Magnetism, superconductivity and beyond, the issue is comprehension and design of novel, complex correlated materials, such as superconductors and magnetic materials, which play a significant role in information and energy technology.

The research theme Materials and processes for energy and transport technologies is intended to contribute to sustainable creation of energy production in the future. Moreover, completely new approaches can be expected in the field of synthesis, processing and characterization of materials with novel in situ and in operando sample environments in the use of the three probes photons, neutrons and ions.

The theme Nanoscience and materials for information technologies is dedicated to cutting-edge research in the field of methods, materials and processes for evaluation of dynamic and transitional phenomena with ultra-short scales of time and length. They are highly relevant to the design of materials at the nano-scale, e.g., in information technology.

Larger and more complex systems play the main role in the research theme Soft matter, health and life sciences. The focus is on the fields of functional materials, polymer-films, complex solutions and colloid-systems (“soft matter” section), as well as on biological objects from biological macro-molecules, bio-membranes and sub-cellular components to small organisms (“Health and Life Sciences” section).

Examples from research

With the aid of state-of-the-art radiation sources, structures, dynamic processes and functions of matter and materials are examined in the MML Program. Research priorities are for example transitional states in solid materials, molecules and biological systems, the examination of complex matter and the design of tailor-made intelligent functional materials, as well as new materials for the energy sector, transport systems and information technologies. An additional goal is improvement of the molecular structure of active substances and their characteristics. 


Key research questions:

  • What are novel materials made of, and how can they be turned into high-tech materials?
  • What could the electronics of the future look like?
  • How are the atoms in a protein arranged, and how can this knowledge be used to tailor a new active ingredient?
  • How does a viral infection work and how can it be fought?
  • What happens during catalysis and how can it be optimized?
  • How detailed can a chemical reaction be filmed at the molecular level?
  • What states does matter assume inside stars and planets?
  • How do materials react to extreme magnetic fields?

Three program themes:

dynamics, mechanisms and control of matter

complex and functional materials, quantum materials

structure and function of the building blocks of life

Research Infrastructures:

European XFEL, Hamburg

X-ray sources Petra III and FLASH, Hamburg

X-ray source BESSY II, Berlin

X-ray source ESRF, Grenoble

Neutron source MZL, Garching

Neutron source ILL, Grenoble

Ion Beam Center (IBC), Dresden-Rossendorf

FAIR, Darmstadt

High Field Magnetic Laboratory (HLD), Dresden-Rossendorf

Laser PHELIX, Darmstadt

Laser DRACO and PENELOPE, Dresden-Rossendorf

ELBE Center for High-Power Radiation Sources

Participating Helmholtz Centers:

German Electron Synchrotron (DESY)

Jülich Research Center (FZJ)

GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research

Helmholtz Center Berlin for Materials and Energy (HZB)

Helmholtz Center Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR)

Helmholtz Center Hereon

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)


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Thomas Stöhlker

Programme spokes person From Matter to Materials and Life
GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung

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